Monday, April 04, 2011

April 4 No more Victims Let's Serve and Be Active to Reform America

What does April 4 mean to you?

For Jim Wallis, this is a time to fast for America. For Maya Angelou, it was her birthday. For MLK, it was a pair of bookends to a traumatic year. For Buchenwald, it meant liberation. For Taiwan, it means a celebration of children. What does April 4 mean to you and how do you celebrate it?

By Kevin Stoda, reflecting from Taiwan

In the USA, April 4 is the day we recall that Martin Luther King, Jr. a great a American—a great world citizen—was assassinated as he supported the poor and deprived laborers and citizens in Memphis, Tennessee.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89344679

The death of MLK would be followed by weeks of burning cities and schools from Wichita to Detroit—as anguish and disappointment turned to rage at the loss of the man-who-had-a-better-dream for you and me.

That was back in 1968—when the US was already unwilling to come to terms with its violent past and violent present. The violent present of 1968 included the Vietnam War. The violent past of pre-1968 America had included lynching and segregated schools from Tulsa to Florida and KKK rallies from Kansas to Rio Grand. It had also included the violence against native Americans and Hawaiians.

King had been raised both into a culture of violence and a culture of hope. One writer noted, “Born into a culture whose main solace was Christianity’s Promised Land awaiting them after the suffering of this world, King took on the power of his race’s presumed destiny and found in himself the defiance necessary to spark change. He ate, drank, and slept death. He danced with it, he preached it, he feared it, and he stared it down. He looked for ways to lay it aside, this burden of his own mortality, but ultimately knew that his unwavering insistence on a non-violent end to the mistreatment of his people could only end violently….”

APRIL 4s

On the other hand, Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928.

http://www.facebook.com/MayaAngelou

Maya Angelou has warned us, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

April 4 is also the day that USA forces freed the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp in Germany back in 1945. “It was part of the Buchenwald concentration camp network and the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohrdruf_forced_labor_camp

Sadly, on that very same day of celebration, i.e. April 4, 1945, the Soviet Union would occupy Hungry as the new war, one called a Cold War, would sprout and bloom across most of the continent of Europe in the following weeks, months and years.

Similarly, April 4, 1967 is a most important day in oratorical American history. On that date in the Riverside Church in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most challenging speech to all of America, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence.”

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

In that April 4 message, MLK, the youngest Nobel Peace prize winner in history, stated plainly his inner soul’s conflict before the world. He made it clear to generations of Americans: “I come to this platform to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.”

HOW A NATION REMEMBERS

Kings opening lines on April 4 at the Riverside Church in New York are as poignant today as they were in 1967. He admitted to all, “OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.”
One year later, because King followed his soul’s calling, he would be dead in Memphis. In the interim, he followed his convictions as many of his closest political and religious allies turned their backs or distanced themselves from him—as America raised its ante in the Vietnam War and other endless equivalents of today’s endless-war-on-terrorism.
The night before Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot in Memphis he shared another vision that linked the listener with a more eternal perspective than politicians and too few Christian leaders replicate in their lives and speeches. He gave another oratory that stays with us to the present day. This was King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” [2] speech. King made it clear that from the beginnings of biblical and ancient history, the bottom line has been justice.
King noted, “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence.”
King let his Memphis audience know that the march for justice was on: “Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: we know it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”
King recounted the toils and travails he and other Americans had already undertaken: “We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do, I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round.’ Bull Connor next would say, ‘Turn the fire hoses on.’ And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.”
At the conclusion of the speech that last evening of his life, MLK noted, “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”
Then King let us know that he had been to the mountain top… …within hours he would be a national memory

APRIL 4, 2011
Now, allow us to fast forward to 2011 and here how others are commemorating April 4 in America. For example, here is a portion of one serious letter I received from MoveOn.org .
http://pol.moveon.org/pac/budgetfast/?id=26743-4797084-Ppw1zzx&t=1
Justin Ruben wrote many Americans saying“Dear Kevin,We don’t have a budget crisis in Washington. We have a moral crisis. When Congress can seriously debate forcing veterans into homelessness and cutting food aid to pregnant women and children, while giving tax breaks to billionaires, something is very, very wrong. That’s why this morning, I joined, along with the heads of seven other major progressive organizations, in an ongoing fast launched by religious leaders to protest the brutal and unjust budget cuts being debated in Washington. Those who will go hungry because of these cuts are largely invisible to decision-makers in Congress. By fasting in solidarity, we have an opportunity to make their suffering visible, and expose the immorality of this policy. Will you join in? You can fast for a day or part of a day, for a meal or a week—whatever you can do.”
Moreover, the Ruben letter also noted, “This began on Monday, when Reverend Jim Wallis and a group of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy launched a prayer fast to highlight what they called the ‘selective cruelty’ in the budget debate. As word spread, thousands more folks have begun fasting as well.”
So, I looked up Jim Wallis on the net and found out more about Jim Wallis prayers and fasting.

FASTING FOR BUDGET CUTS this April 4
Here are ten of the reasons that people are fasting and reaching out to serve others this April 4—regardless of what community of peoples you are among this Monday, April 4. This was written down by Jim Wallis and published in the Huffington Post.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/10-reasons-why-im-fasting_b_841637.html
(1). “Because I am an evangelical Christian and the root of the word “evangelical” is found in the opening statement of Jesus in Luke 4, where Christ says he has come to bring “good news (the ‘evangel’) to the poor.” So to be an evangelical Christian is to try and bring good news to poor people.”
(2). “Because some very bad news is happening to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Washington’s battle over the budget — both those at home and around the world.”

https://secure3.convio.net/sojo/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=399&autologin=true&JServSessionIdr004=2lroh4g0b9.app332b

(3). “Because budgets are moral documents — they reveal our priorities, who and what is important, and who and what are not. To address excessive deficits is also a moral issue — preventing our children and grandchildren from having crushing debt. But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue. We should reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of our poorest people.”
(4). “Because it is simply wrong — morally and religiously — to focus our budget cuts on the people who are already hurting, and make them hurt more. Programs that are effectively reducing poverty should not be cut. They should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.”
(5). “Because there is a selective cruelty going on in this budget debate. Instead of focusing on where the real money is, some budget cutters are actually targeting vital and effective programs that support and protect poor people and some initiatives that are literally saving lives. It was not spending on poor people that created this deficit, and these drastic cuts in programs that help poor people will do little to get us out of our deficit.”
(6). “Because to really reduce the deficit, we should put everything on the table, especially the biggest public outlays in military spending, corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, long term health-care costs etc. — all of which could actually reduce the deficit, when much smaller poverty programs will not. Last night, 60 Minutes exposed 60 billion lost in revenue to corporate tax havens in Switzerland — enough to protect many programs for the poor.
(7). Because there is a difference between deficit hawks — some of whom I know, respect and work with on restoring fiscal health — and deficit hypocrites, who won’t go to where the real money is, but go instead to the poor, who have little political clout in Washington to defend themselves, and are an easy targets to score political points with a political base. We do not fast today against fiscal responsibility, but against political hypocrisy.”
(8). “Because those of us who are Christians are bound by Jesus’ command to protect the least of these. So people of faith ask, “What Would Jesus Cut?” The extreme budget cuts proposed to critical programs that save the lives, dignity and future of poor and vulnerable people have crossed a moral line. Politicians have only just begun to hear from the many church leaders who are ready to wage the good fight over these bad decisions. This crisis is bringing us together. Those with money and armies of lobbyists have their interests protected. They won’t bear the burden of reducing the deficit. But the work to protect the poor is a Christian vocation and obligation, and we will be faithful to it.”
(9). “Because I am blessed to be in the company of dear brothers and sisters, Tony Hall, David Beckham, Ritu Sharma, the 38 organizations that have joined this fast coalition, and the growing movement of people of faith and conscience who together intend to form a circle of protection around vital poverty-fighting programs. Every Christian, regardless of political affiliation, is called to take up the cause of the poor and the needy because that is God’s heart, and we will be calling every legislator who says they are a Christian or person of conscience to listen to God’s heart as they make their decisions.”
(10).” Because, ultimately, this is a fast before God, to whom we turn in prayer and hope to change hearts — our hearts, the heart of our lawmakers, the heart of the nation. We will pray and fast, each of us in our own ways, for mercy, compassion, wisdom, strength and courage as we make the critical budget choices about who and what are most important. A line has been crossed in this budget debate; extreme budget cuts are now being proposed and this fast is a spiritual escalation to bring these critical moral choices to the attention of the nation, and to seek God’s help in doing so. “Is not this the fast that I choose,” says the prophet Isaiah, “to loose bonds of injustice … to let the oppressed go free?”
Wallis concluded, “Join me in prayer, fasting, and action in response to Congress’ proposed budget cuts.”
As I noted a few days ago, this sort of activity is likely in line for how MLK would like us to recall his death.
http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/this-sounds-like-a-great-way-to-commemorate-dr-king-on-april-4/

APRIL 4 in TAIWAN: Children’s day
Another way to remember King’s birthday is to do what Taiwan has auspiciously chosen to do on their own in recent decades on April 4 of each year. Namely, they dedicate the day to children. One government website notes, “Children are the future custodians of the nation, and thus providing them with a good family, social, and educational environment is a goal ardently worked for by every nation.”
School is canceled on that day, April 4, each year and most of the country takes a holiday, but the focus is called on children and childhood. Last week, several of the schools I teach at here in Taiwan had special youth and children’s day events—including games, sports, dance, singing, and other fun. I was especially impressed that the teams for many of the games were made up of children from 6 different elementary grades—this mean that support for one another—regardless of size and character–is encouraged. I am certain that such bonding is a good balance against forces that lead to bullying in school and society.
The Taiwan government website explains the rationale for children’s day in the ROC (Republic of China). “In August 1925, some 54 representatives from different countries gathered together in Geneva, Switzerland to convene the first ‘World Conference for the Wellbeing of Children,’ during which the ‘Geneva Declaration Protecting Children’ was passed. The proclamation made a strong appeal for the spiritual needs of children, relief for children in poverty, prevention of child labor, reassessing the way that children are educated and other issues related to the welfare of children around the world. After the conference, various governments around the world designated a day, different in each country, as Children’s Day, to encourage and bring joy to children as well as to draw the attention of society to children’s issues.” April 4 was chosen by Taiwan to focus on children’s needs and issues.
The website concludes, “The occasion is marked by the Children’s Day Celebration honoring model students from around Taiwan and by numerous parent-children activities sponsored by government and civic organizations. Thus, the day not only lets the kids become king for a day, but also helps to strengthen the bond between parents and their children.
In recent years, children’s issues have gained greater attention in Taiwan, leading to the founding of several child welfare groups. With passage of the Children’s Welfare Law, the rights of young people have been given legal protection so that the future leaders of the nation can live a life free from worry and uncertainty.”
http://www.gio.gov.tw/info/festival_c/child_e/child.htm
Now I recall another famous Martin Luther King, Jr. oration that talked about children. Don’t you?
King said many time that he had a dream for all of our children. [3]
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’”
April 4—yes, celebrating and supporting children—our future does seem to be another great way to spend this day. I think I will volunteer and focus on the needy children in our societies this Monday.
Again, what are you going to do?

NOTES

[1] Published on Thursday, January 15, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
April 1967 At Manhattan’s Riverside Church

http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0115-13.htm

[2] “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968
http://www.afscme.org/about/1549.cfm

[3] “I Have a Dream”, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr at Lincoln Memorial, 1962 http://www.mlkonline.net/video-i-have-a-dream-speech.html

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